Learning from media mistakes in Boston bombing coverage

Christian Harding
Staff Writer

In light of the recent bombings in Boston (which have thankfully been resolved at the time of my writing this piece), it would seem as though while all the major news outlets were attempting to report on this story, there seemed to be an offbeat and almost desperate sense of urgency to the coverage. Pressure not only from the bombings themselves, but also the pressure to be the first one to land the big scoop and relieve everyone of their stress. In events like these, certain risks and liberties with one’s gathering of information are called for. Sometimes this can lead to really courageous and innovative reporting. However, this is not always the case and it more often than not will lead to really clumsy and poorly handled coverage.
And with that in mind, it’s high time to face certain events which transpired recently, though not the actual bombings themselves. Instead, some light must be shed on the regrettably amateurish coverage of said events, mostly in regards to some otherwise reliable news sources. With these incidents, we’re provided with a rather harsh reminder that making mistakes in your professional career is flat out unavoidable, no matter who you work for or how high up on the journalistic food chain you are.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombing case, and that a “dark-skinned male” seen walking away from the scene in video footage from a Lord & Taylor store was the suspect. According to the network, a “source” in federal law enforcement told a CNN correspondent that someone was arrested. Additionally, FOX News “confirmed” that an arrest had been made. Following suite, The Associated Press said that a “subject was in custody.” ??Meanwhile, NBC insisted that no arrest had been made, but there were individuals of interest identified by the FBI. Later, as more news outlets reported that an arrest had been made, or a suspect had been identified, NBC continued to insist that their sources told them no arrest had been made. Rather than run with what probably sounded like the most interesting angle to go with, they kept their integrity and reported only what they knew to be true. Sure, this exercise might’ve lost them a few viewers for a couple of hours, but their competence was rewarded with not being humiliated on a national scale after having been proven wrong.
Obviously, this little incident can teach a lot to those of us hoping to enter into related fields during their lifetime. People always talk about how you can learn from “the greats” or how we should all look to those who are the very best at their professions. But what is often taken for granted is how we can learn from the mistakes of those very same people.
Nobody is perfect, and even the most accomplished of professionals are prone to screwing up from time to time. But their failings might inadvertently prove beneficial to those who might someday be in the same situation, and could therefore avoid making a colossal error or two.